Are Sit-Stand Desks a Healthy Option?

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on March 17, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

March 17, 2016 -- Desks that let you stand up or sit down at work have become more popular recently. But do they boost your health and fitness?

For millions of us, work involves sitting for hours a day. Health experts say this can raise the risk of heart disease and play a role in weight gain or obesity.

Now, in a new Cochrane Review on sit-stand desks, a team of international researchers looked into 20 studies involving a total of 2,174 participants from the U.K., the U.S., and Europe.

The review found little good-quality evidence about the benefits of these trendy furniture items. In six of the studies, involving 218 people, there was some evidence to suggest that people who used them sat between 30 minutes and 2 hours less, compared to when they used conventional desks. Also, standing more did not cause harmful effects in the studies, such as muscle and bone pain, varicose veins, or a drop in productivity.

Other actions aimed at making participants less inactive, such as taking a walk during breaks at work, did not change the amount of time people sat during the working day, the researchers found.

The researchers stress that the quality of evidence available for review was poor, mainly because of the way the studies were put together and the small number of participants involved.

"This Cochrane Review shows that, at the moment, there is uncertainty over how big an impact sit-stand desks can make on reducing the time spent sitting at work in the short term,” says lead researcher Nipun Shrestha, from the Health Research and Social Development Forum in Nepal, in a statement.

More research is needed, Shrestha says, with "larger studies, longer follow-up, and research from low income countries."

Cochrane is a not-for-profit organization that produces reviews of the best available evidence on health issues.